Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Parents' 'um's' and 'uh's' help toddlers learn new words, cognitive scientists find

Date:
April 15, 2011
Source:
University of Rochester
Summary:
A team of cognitive scientists has good news for parents who are worried that they are setting a bad example for their children when they say "um" and "uh." A new study shows that toddlers actually use their parents' stumbles and hesitations (technically referred to as disfluencies) to help them learn language more efficiently.

Jackson Coles, 2, of Webster, NY, sitting in the lap of his mother, Christy, watches objects on a special monitor designed to track eye movement during a research study at the University of Rochester's Baby Lab. The study found babies use "um's" and "uh's" to help them learn new words.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Rochester

A team of cognitive scientists has good news for parents who are worried that they are setting a bad example for their children when they say "um" and "uh." A study conducted at the University of Rochester's Baby Lab shows that toddlers actually use their parents' stumbles and hesitations (technically referred to as disfluencies) to help them learn language more efficiently.

Related Articles


For instance, say you're walking through the zoo with your two-year-old and you are trying to teach him animal names. You point to the rhinoceros and say, "Look at the, uh, uh, rhinoceros." It turns out that as you are fumbling for the correct word, you are also sending your child a signal that you are about to teach him something new, so he should pay attention, according to the researchers.

Young kids have a lot of information to process while they listen to an adult speak, including many words that they have never heard before. If a child's brain waits until a new word is spoken and then tries to figure out what it means after the fact, it becomes a much more difficult task and the child is apt to miss what comes next, says Richard Aslin, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester and one of the study's authors.

"The more predictions a listener can make about what is being communicated, the more efficiently the listener can understand it," Aslin said.

The study, which was conducted by Celeste Kidd, a graduate student at the University of Rochester, Katherine White, a former postdoctoral fellow at Rochester who is now at the University of Waterloo, and Aslin was published online April 14 in the journal Developmental Science.

The researchers studied three groups of children between the ages of 18 and 30 months. Each child sat on his or her parent's lap in front of a monitor with an eye-tracking device. Two images appeared on the screen: one image of a familiar item (like a ball or a book) and one made-up image with a made-up name (like a "dax" or a "gorp"). A recorded voice talked about the objects with simple sentences. When the voice stumbled and said "Look at the, uh…" the child instinctively looked at the made-up image much more often than the familiar image (almost 70 percent of the time).

"We're not advocating that parents add disfluencies to their speech, but I think it's nice for them to know that using these verbal pauses is OK -- the "uh's" and "um's" are informative," said Kidd, the study's lead author.

In the study, the effect was only significant in children older than two years. The younger children, the researchers reasoned, had not yet learned the fact that disfluencies tend to precede novel or unknown words.

When kids are between the ages of two and three, they usually are at a developmental stage where they can construct rudimentary sentences of about two to four words in length. And they typically have a vocabulary of a few hundred words.

The study builds on earlier research by Jennifer Arnold, a scientist at the University of North Carolina and a former postdoctoral fellow at Rochester, which found that adults also can use "um's" and "uh's" to their advantage in understanding language. Additionally, work by Anne Fernald at Stanford University has shown that it's not the quality but the quantity of speech that a child is exposed to that is most important for learning.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Rochester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Celeste Kidd, Katherine S. White, Richard N. Aslin. Toddlers use speech disfluencies to predict speakers’ referential intentions. Developmental Science, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01049.x

Cite This Page:

University of Rochester. "Parents' 'um's' and 'uh's' help toddlers learn new words, cognitive scientists find." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110414131436.htm>.
University of Rochester. (2011, April 15). Parents' 'um's' and 'uh's' help toddlers learn new words, cognitive scientists find. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110414131436.htm
University of Rochester. "Parents' 'um's' and 'uh's' help toddlers learn new words, cognitive scientists find." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110414131436.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) Ruby Holt spent most of her 100 years on a farm in rural Tennessee, picking cotton and raising four children. She saw the ocean for the first time thanks to her assisted living center and a group that grants wishes to the elderly. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins